Like her four sisters, Lady Audrina Bradleigh is expected to marry a duke, lead fashion, and behave with propriety. Consequently, Audrina pursues mischief with gusto, attending scandalous parties and indulging in illicit affairs. But when an erstwhile lover threatens to ruin her reputation, Audrina has no choice but to find a respectable husband at once.
Who would guess that her search would lead her to Giles Rutherford, a blunt-spoken American on a treasure hunt of his own? When a Christmas snowstorm strands the pair at a country inn, more secrets are traded than gifts—along with kisses that require no mistletoe—and Audrina discovers even proper gentlemen have their wicked side…
In this, the final book in her Holiday Pleasures series, Theresa Romain has skilfully melded together a tender and insightful romance and an intriguing mystery which takes her hero and heroine on a journey across a England at Christmastide – and on a journey of personal discovery.
Lady Audrina Bradleigh, the fifth and youngest daughter of the Earl of Alleyneham, has, since her début, cultivated a slightly scandalous reputation as an act of rebellion against her autocratic and uncaring father. Unfortunately for her, what has hitherto been little more than a series of excursions into dark, secluded corners with her dance partners has turned into something far more dangerous. One of her suitors has decided his debts won’t wait any longer, and has drugged and kidnapped her with a view to marrying her in order to get his hands on her dowry.
Giles Rutherford and his father, Richard, have left their home in Philadelphia in order to search for a set of valuable jewels that belonged to his late mother, the daughter of a marquess. When she fell in love with an American jeweller’s apprentice, her family took away everything of value that she owned – with the exception of this set, which she hid before running away with her lover. Giles has travelled to England with Richard in order to fulfil his mother’s dying request – that her jewellery be found and used to the benefit of her family.
Father and son have been travelling around the country and have recently arrived at The Goat and Gauntlet inn in York when they receive an unexpected – and odd – message from the Earl of Alleyneham, more or less ordering them to put a stop to his youngest daughter’s flight and to detain the couple until he arrives.
Giles takes umbrage at the earl’s high-handedness and is reluctant to get involved, but Richard, never one to pass on “an adventure” is only too pleased to be offer their assistance.
When the earl arrives, he is absolutely furious – but with Audrina rather than her unscrupulous abductor. She is to remain with the Rutherfords and Lady Ingram (an old friend of the family) until after her sister’s wedding, in case the scandal that threatens to surround her causes the prospective bridegroom – a duke – to call off the nuptuals.
Once her father has left, Audrina has no alternative but to join the Rutherfords’ quest for the missing jewels – and to embark upon an adventure that will change her life.
Season for Desire is a thoroughly enjoyable story which brings the traditions of a Regency Christmastide vividly to life. Of course, the path of true love is never without its pot-holes, and there are a few bumps along the way for Giles and Audrina. She is perhaps a little too quick to act first and think later, but as the story progresses and she begins to rediscover her sense of self-esteem, she realises that she no longer needs to fulfil anyone’s low expectations. Giles is a lovely hero – kind, perceptive and reliable – but he fails to see that he’s living his life for everyone except himself. He’s taken on the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings while he also tries to make sure his father’s flights of fancy don’t get too out of hand. This – coupled with the fact that he has eschewed his desire to become an architect so as not to disappoint Richard, who dreams of setting up shop as a maker and designer of jewellery, and his concern that he has inherited an arthritic condition from his mother which renders him unsuitable for marriage to anyone – weighs very heavily on Giles’ admittedly broad shoulders. He can’t abandon the family that needs him in order to remain in England with Audrina, and he certainly can’t ask an earl’s daughter to cross an ocean to an uncertain future.
The relationship between the two principals is tender, passionate and written with a great deal of warmth and humour. It’s clear they belong together, but before that can happen they have to confront the fact that they have been living with false perceptions of themselves which they have to adjust before they can become the person they are meant to be, and be with the person they are meant to be with. I enjoyed the way Giles and Audrina are able to help each other with that adjustment, but ultimately, these are decisions and choices they have to make for themselves, and I was particularly impressed with the way Ms Romain dealt with that aspect of their respective journeys.
There is a strong and quite large cast of secondary characters in the book, many of whom get to narrate the story at certain points, which I admit, I did find a little jarring. It’s usual in a romance to have the story told from both the hero and heroine’s point of view, but in this book, the POV jumps around a bit, which did detract a little at times from the principal story. That said, the characters themselves are all very well rounded out, especially the waspish, be-turbanned Lady Irving, who is one of those terrific, sharp-tongued mature ladies one often finds in the pages of historical romances – a lady with an opinion on everything who isn’t afraid to voice it but who is, underneath, a little lonely and not at all as dragon-like as she seems.
Theresa Romain has become a favourite author of mine over the past couple of years. Her stories are intelligently written, strongly characterised and show her to be a talented storyteller, all traits exhibited in Season for Desire. I enjoyed the slow-burn romance and was thoroughly drawn in by the mystery surrounding the puzzle boxes. If I have a criticism, it’s that the book is perhaps a little “busy” – the large number of secondary characters and secondary storylines did distract me sometimes – but overall, I was captivated by the mystery and by the two central characters and their story.